Writing the Bad Boy
Writing the Bad Boy
By Brunonia Barry
I have written male villains before. I believe I understand them. A villain is only a villain to us. To him, he’s misunderstood. His actions are completely justified. Any villain worth his salt can give you five or six good reasons he’s not a villain at all, why, under the circumstances, his bad deeds make perfect sense.
While some writers think the bad boy and villain are closely linked, I believe the bad boy is a completely different animal. He knows who he is. He isn’t making excuses. He relishes his badness; and we love him for it.
In my new book, I’m writing about the bad boy, two bad boys in fact. So far, it’s a lot of fun. They are often handsome, sometimes in an unconventional way, usually smart or at least very clever, and always charismatic. Think Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall, or for that matter Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise, or Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It. Okay, sorry. Enough with the Brad Pitt.
Seriously, has the bad boy archetype always been with us, or is he a fairly recent and much emulated creation? Which came first, the chicken or the Brad Pitt? Sorry, I slipped. Won’t happen again.
No seriously, let’s look back at some earlier bad boys. Clark Gable often played a bad boy. As did Cary Grant (think of him in An Affair to Remember before he changed his ways). Fred Astaire even danced the part, the playboy who could not be caught except, of course, by the right woman.
Is the bad boy a rogue? Is he an antihero? My thinking is that he could be either and maybe a combination. What do you think?
And why are we so damned attracted to him?
Years ago, in my single days, my roommate and I took a trip to Maui. We wanted to charter a boat to Molokai Crater to do a bit of snorkeling. We looked though our list of boats and immediately and unanimously chose a charter operated by an outfit that called themselves The Bad Boys of the Pacific. There were much better boats out there, ones that certainly sounded safer than the Bad Boys, but there was never any doubt or second thought about our choice. As it turned out, the Bad Boys weren’t so bad after all (probably a good thing). They were actually very nice guys who probably fancied themselves modern day pirates.
And speaking of pirates, now there’s another bad boy image. In reality, pirates were rather terrifying creatures. Why do we always picture them as bad boys rather than the sadistic murderous villains they probably were? If you thought my earlier obsession was excessive, don’t even get me started on Johnny Depp.
Why are Bad Boys so irresistible? And why do we always seem to believe we can tame them? “He’ll change for me” is a decidedly female fantasy, one we shouldn’t be too proud of, it seems to me. I mean, if we liked them so much as bad boys, why would we want them to change?
I read somewhere that bad boys trigger a subconscious biological imperative in women. We shy away from really bad people, but the bad boy will presumably fight for home and family much more easily than say, the nice guy.
Who’s your favorite bad boy? Did you ever date one? Why do you think they’re so compelling?